Elisir d’amore: I need a drink

Juan Diego Flórez is a very charming and accomplished guy, and not a good enough actor to disguise it.  As moony dumbass Nemorino he doesn’t convince, no matter how many precisely timed pratfalls he pulls.  This was a production that existed for one reason, and that was to hear him sing “Una furtiva lagrima.”

It got an endless ovation.  It was an exceptionally fine piece of singing, but embedded as it was in a production with no other distractions, how could it not?  This was your Platonic ideal of Wiener Staatsoper repertory performances: an adored star surrounded by solid but unexceptional ensemble costars, all engaging in well-worn dramatic shtick on a set that is older than any of them.  The only exception was that your average rep night has rather fewer stage-orchestra train wrecks than this one did.

Donizetti, L’elisir d’amore.  Wiener Staatsoper, 29/10/10.  Production “after” Otto Schenk with sets by Jürgen Rose.  Conducted by Yves Abel with Juan Diego Flórez (Nemorino), Sylvia Schwartz (Adina), Tae Joong Yang (Belcore), Lars Woldt (Dulcamara), Anita Hartig (Giannetta)

Otto Schenk’s Elisir d’amore is located in a sunny part of Italy where the peasants are remarkably clean and well-dressed.  The set, though, has been going for 179 performances and resembles a pale beached whale, even conman Dulcamara’s wish-fulfillment wagon is faded.  The blocking is steadfastly conventional and not polished enough to acquire wit beyond the most obvious drunk jokes.  Also, re-stretch your damn backdrop, Staatsoper.  The sky is wrinkly.  But if you like this kind of thing, here it is.

So far, so repertory.  The attraction here was the Nemorino of the Flórez.  I’m usually nuts for him, but he really rubbed me the wrong way in this.  Nemorino’s music gives him little space to display his virtuoso technique and high notes, leaving him to get by on his lyricism and charm alone.  His singing is musically unimpeachable, but the tone is a bit narrow and nasal for the role.  He can fill a performance with clever stage business, but it doesn’t really cohere into a character.

Absent his dazzling coloratura, I actually found him kind of smug and annoying.  His charm is indeed plentiful, and bowled the rest of the audience over, but he seemed to know exactly how good he is, and that’s never attractive.  It’s particularly not good when you’re playing a simple and sincere soul like Nemorino–tellingly, only Nemorino’s elixir-smashed confidence actually worked.  What the hell am I asking for, I know!  But the most sympathetic performances have a sort of generosity to them, and I found that absent here.

He did encore the aria, though.  Of course.

Yes, that’s La Netrebka.  Only picture I could find, sorry!

The rest of the cast was perfectly acceptable.  New ensemble member Sylvia Schwartz as Adina missed the first two performances of the run due to illness.  Maybe she had not entirely recovered; her tone wavered between sweet and focused and fluttery and squally.  She improved as a the night went on, though, and made for a poised and accurate Adina of the lyric sort.  She doesn’t have the easy coloratura or extension for a killer “Prendi” cabaletta, but her secure low notes bode well for her appearances as Susannah and Zerlina later this season.

Tae Joong Yang has a strong and noble baritone voice, but seemed to force unnecessarily both vocally and dramatically; his Belcore scored on pomposity but could have used more suavity.  Lars Woldt was miscast as Dulcamara, with a fine voice but without the velocity to make the patter roll.  Anita Hartig’s warm voice seemed overqualified for Giannetta.

Now for the biggest problem of the evening: the conducting.  I have rarely heard such a messy performance.  Yves Abel chose perfectly conventional tempos but nearly every number featured major coordination problems between orchestra and stage, including losing the entire soprano section in the Dulcamara entrance chorus, losing both tenor and soprano towards the end of the concertante Act 1 finale, and many, many places where the singers were a beat or two off from the orchestra.  Recitatives featured odd pauses.  It was BAD.  That’s the only way to put it.

Lots of enthusiastic applause from everyone in the audience, though.  Now I remember why I avoid these tourist-magnet repertory productions.  I think I have discovered the proper place for that irritating word Startenor, though.

This was the final performance with Juan Diego but the opera marches on with various other casts later this season.  This production can also be seen on DVD with Netrebko and Villazón in excellent form.  However, my favorite Elisir remains the one with Alagna and Gheorghiu–cute 1920’s setting and he’s got that sweet stupidity, she’s got that bitchiness.

This was part 2.1 of my newly-discovered series Operas I See in Both Vienna and Munich that the Bayerische Staatsoper Does More Weirdly.  Meaning I’m going to see the notorious “underpants Elisir” with Calleja in Munich in January.

Photos copyright Wiener Staatsoper.

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  1. hey, hey, hey "the underpants elisir"! i have seen this so far with filianoti (clearly nr. 1 in this production) as well as breslik as well as villazon (sort of). i always had machaidze as adina which was interesting because then you can compare the tenors down to every detail (with a new partner obviously they would change too). i am also going to go to the calleja one – i wonder if he will climb the telephone thing, though. it was filianoti's idea originally (not the director's) and so far everyone i have seen has done it :)(it is really very high up). i am really looking forward to calleja in this, however, if i could have filianoti just one more time, that would be the best, he is just exceptionally cute there :).

  2. Calleja might not be up to the onstage gymnastics of Filianoti or Breslik (um, wow), but I'm really looking forward to hearing him as Nemorino, I just love his voice. And I don't mind if he stays off the lamppost if he's able to get in touch with his inner mopey loser better than Florez did. And this production looks really fun.

    I'm seeing the Elisir a few days before the Bieito Fidelio, which I think is the wrong order if I wish to remain a happy person but it was all I could manage schedule-wise.

    Breslik is Don Ottavio'ing later this season in Wien but I'm guessing the Staatsoper won't provide him any acrobatic opportunities. A pity.

  3. Am a great Calleja fan myself since hearing him as Macduff here! Even went to Frankfurt specifically to see his Edgardo – however he turned out to be ill … hopefully better luck this time. One of the few great tenor voices of this time.
    In the right hands this production is very funny and poetic and touching – it was a huge success here (I have seen both Filianoti and Breslik twice, long bravo'ing each time). I know only almost noone who didn't like it 🙂 (not that that means anything).

  4. Ohhh you know the Alagna & Angela Elisir???? few people even remember! And particularily few remember how good they were at it and how good a comic actor Alagna is 🙂 It was one to cherish 🙂 And yes i have a DVD :-)))) The one in Munich is a nice version for our days, i think it works and i saw Filianoti in ROH with it and i think it suits him to 🙂
    Bit weird with Juandi,, i would think he would work the part more on stage, i have seen him do wonderful comic timing and true acting.. maybe not enough rehearsal time in Wien.. wouldn't surprise me 🙁

  5. Oh, he was working it, but everything was the kind of stage business you can bring in your suitcase to use without rehearsal (which, this being Vienna, was probably in short supply). It was demonstrative and very self-conscious; I would prefer something a little more internalized and emotional even if it were more static.

    Yeah, the Alagna/Gheorghiu production is so great! Alagna is a very good comic actor, and he always radiates this kind of sincerity and effort that is very endearing. Nowadays his voice definitely has some problems to it but I still can't help but like the guy.

  6. This is what is behind the lamppost by the way. I was always somewhat afraid for the singer though, especially in the first Breslik performance when it was swaying quite a bit.
    Bayerische Staatsoper Forum:
    Sie können uns glauben, mit Marketing für die Klettersportindustrie hat der Einfall, „Una furtiva lagrima“ auf dem Laternenpfosten zu singen, nichts zu tun. Auch für die Sicherheit unserer Sänger ist gesorgt. Kein Bühnenmeister würde eine unsichere Einrichtung zulassen, die die Sänger gefährden würde. Das wäre verantwortungslos und grob fahrlässig.
    Die Idee, die Arie auf dem Pfosten zu singen, kam übrigens nicht vom Regisseur David Bösch, sondern vom Sänger der Premiere, Giuseppe Filianoti, selbst. Wenn Sie mit dem Nemorino mitbangen, ist das sehr schön, denn es zeigt, wie sensibel Sie sich in die Figur eingedacht haben: Nemorino durchlebt in dieser Arie einen für ihn existentiellen emotionalen Hochseilakt – zum schwindelig werden.

  7. Heee, somehow I'm guessing implementing this nifty idea probably caused 15 tech people gigantic headaches and lost sleep. As a tech person myself, I always get scared whenever a singer or director says, "but wouldn't it be cool if we could…. (set it on fire) (make it edible) (have five different cues there instead of one)."

  8. Honestly, I'm not a big aria concert person, I find them not very interesting. We've got a good weekend in Vienna too, with two primas: Finta giardiniera on Friday and Alcina on Sunday. Have fun! I have heard that that Don production is… interesting.

  9. Not too bad :). Yes, that Don production is interesting as in stupid ;). I have seen it with Mr. Kwiecien (yeah!) and Mr. Schrott so far (both as Don). There is really cooking by Don and Leporello at the end – you can smell it, they do omelette or so … well, that's Munich for you …